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  • Writer's pictureKhawla Shehadeh

Unhealthy Loyalty

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

Loyalty is something that is highly valued in our society. It creates consistency and trust. Being loyal as a customer, as an employee, as a partner, as a daughter/son, as a brother/sister, as a friend, as a voter, as a patient, as a fellow countryman. We can be loyal in different ways. Loyalty is defined as keeping to the agreements made. It also includes honesty and sincerity. It seems to be a connective tissue between human relationships.

At the same time, I see loyalty around me taking on unhealthy forms. Remaining endlessly loyal to people and institutions that no longer fulfil our needs. Remaining loyal to an employer who insults his people, to a political party that is morally bankrupt, to a spouse you have not been happy with for years, to a company that does not offer its most loyal customers any benefits.

So why do we remain loyal? Apparently loyalty fulfils certain individual needs, otherwise we would not be so loyal. In non-violent communication, everything we do and say is a strategy to fulfil a particular need of ours. Everything. These are universal needs that everyone recognises, such as love, growth, trust, recognition, health, etc. It is the life energy and the life force of the individual. It is the driving force behind everything we do. However, just like feelings and emotions, needs are changeable. From moment to moment.

Loyalty can arise from a need for safety, security, gratitude (someone has been good to you), love, approval, acceptance, belonging (are you for Feyenoord or Ajax?), trust or just convenience. All very beautiful and legitimate needs. However, loyalty continues to exist regardless of whether it still fulfils these needs. It is something that lives in our heads and does not come from the heart. It is a principle that may be accompanied by a load of guilt and/or shame. You remain loyal because...that is what you ought to do. Even though it ignores your own changing needs. You lose a part of yourself and the connection with yourself. You switch this part of you off in order to remain loyal, despite your possible dissatisfaction. In fact, you do violence to yourself for the sake of loyalty. It offers you no flexibility because it is no longer a conscious choice.

It is striking that loyalty is often found in a relationship of dependency, for example in an employer/employee relationship. Not surprisingly, it often only goes one way. It serves the other, in such cases, much more than it serves you. To sustain it, loyalty makes you a little blind to the facts. It overemphasises the positive aspects and can justify what is evidently wrong. It silences you about your discontents. In sects and extremist movements it is a currency. Actually, in all forms of fanaticism. Loyalty provides an easy framework to be used or abused.

Sometimes it is the other way round and loyalty is created by an abusive situation. We call this the Stokholm Syndrome. It occurs, for example, during a hostage-situation or a kidnapping, but also in abusive relationships such as incest or domestic violence. In incest, the child that is the whistleblower is sometimes rejected by the other children who are also being abused. This is because in Stokholm syndrome, the victim tends to identify more with the perpetrator than with the suffering and injustice done to him. There is sympathy for the perpetrator. The victim's loyalty may extend so far that even after liberation by the authorities, the victim continues to protect the perpetrator. The victim emphasises the offender's kindness and humanity. This kindness is very relative and may consist of the fact that the offender has 'spared' his life or that no physical violence has occurred. It is in fact a survival strategy for the victim.

Anyway, we don't have to make it that heavy here but what I am trying to say here is that instead of blind loyalty, it is time to let ourselves be guided by what is alive in us in terms of feelings and needs. It is these feelings and needs that give beauty to life. Being able to live from the heart. If you impose standards on yourself that you comply with on the outside but that are eating you up inside, then the bomb will explode sooner or later. And the bomb could be that you break up with a fight, that you get depressed, burned out, develop chronic physical complaints, eating disorders or addictions, etc.

I realise that this topic could lead to discussion. Well, because I have already had this discussion with myself. Loyalty seems to have a beautiful side. Especially when someone else is loyal to you. But actually it is sick. We want people to commit to us from a place of freedom and joy, and not from a sense of duty. You don't have to lose yourself or sacrifice your own beautiful needs to fulfil a promise or an agreement. You can give back this agreement and free yourself. Stay honest with yourself and make sure that you stay connected to your own life energy. From there you can take on anything and you are the only one who is responsible for your own happiness.

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